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Following The Leader

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Really the only reason Race and Albert had known that Jack was up to something is because they had been up to something themselves and had just happened to see Jack sneaking away from the lodge at night. They had just happened to have been making out in the dark alley behind the lodge when Jack nearly silently scaled down the fire escape landing ten feet away from them. The only reason Jack hadn’t heard them is because they always fall silent as soon as they hear even the slightest bit of noise. Race and Albert had turned towards the noise, hoping it wasn’t a bull about to bust them for being ‘indecent’, and instead saw a silhouette making its way from the fire escape towards the street. The street was lit well enough for them to make out that the figure was none other than Jack Kelly, sneaking away at night, a very suspicious thing for him to do. 

“Where ya think he’s goin’?” Race whispers, still watching Jack go.

“Dunno.” Albert whispers back. 

“Follow him?” Race turns towards Albert, mischievous grin just barely visible in the dark alley.

“Obviously.” Albert grins back and the two make their way out of the alley.

They follow Jack all the way to Brooklyn, careful to stay at least a block behind him at all times. It’s not easy for them to remain unseen when Jack jumps at every sound, but the two are well versed in sneaking around unheard. 

When Jack reaches Brooklyn he heads towards the docks. Race sends Albert a questioning look, Albert just shrugs, it’s not like he has any better idea of what Jack’s doing than Race does. Jack weaves his way through wooden crates, he seems to have a particular destination in mind and Race and Albert have to follow him closer than before in order to not lose him in this maze. Eventually Jack stops abruptly, which causes Race and Albert to scramble to find a good hiding place without him seeing or hearing them.

Another set of footsteps approach, and Albert pushes Race into a small alcove between two crates just in time to avoid being seen by whoever it is that Jack is meeting. Neither of them are in a good position to see who it is when they pass, but it’s clear as soon as he starts talking.

“Kelly?” A thick Brooklyn accent asks in a loud whisper. Race’s eyebrows shoot up in surprise. Jack is meeting Spot Conlon, secretly, at night, in Brooklyn. What the hell?

“Hey, Conlon, ya miss me?” Jack teases. Albert looks at Race, alarmed.

‘Are they-?’ He mouths. Race just shrugs and the two scramble to find a better vantage point. When they round the corner of one of the stacks, however, they just narrowly miss running into two other people sneaking around. A darker skinned girl with dark braids immediately clamps her hand over the mouth of the taller boy she’s with to keep him from yelling out in surprise. 

“Rafaela?” Race hisses as quietly as he can. 

Rafaela angrily puts one finger over her mouth to tell him to be quiet. The four of them awkwardly stare at each other for a minute, listening to make sure neither Jack nor Spot heard them. After a minute, Rafaela grabs one of Hot Shot’s arms and one of Race’s, dragging them both in the direction the Brooklyn newsies has been heading before they had almost run into the Manhattan newsies. Albert trails behind them, checking behind him to make sure Jack and Spot aren’t around. Rafaela takes them a safe distance away from Jack and Spot so that they can talk without being discovered. 

“What’re ya doin’ here, Higgins?” She demands. 

“Whadda ya mean what am I doing here? What are you doin’ here?” Race fires back. They both seem angry which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to Albert seeing as both parties were clearly following their leaders around, but he doesn’t know the Brooklyn newsies, so what does he know. 

“We’re from Brooklyn, dumbass, we don’t have ta tell ya what we’re doin’ here.” Hot Shot says. Based on the body language of the three of them, Albert thinks that this could go on for a while, so he decides to intervene. 

“Look, we was followin’ Jack here, you was clearly followin’ Conlon here. We’se all here ta spy on them and we ain’t gonna be able ta do that from ovah here, so let’s get back ovah there and see why they’se sneakin’ around.”

The three other stare at him for a second before Rafaela speaks up. “He’s right, we can’t spy on them from here.”

With that, she and Hot Shot head back in the direction of the two leaders. Albert sends Race a questioning look, but the blond just shakes his head. There’s a story there, Albert’s sure of it, but he can Race about it later, right now they have to spy on Jack. 

When they catch up with Rafaela and Hot Shot, they’ve found a good spying spot where they can hear Jack and Spot clearly and also peak at them from between the crates. Jack and Spot are fairly boring to watch; all they do is talk about the recent goings on in their respective boroughs. They talk about their respective kids, the kinds of profits they get, their respective plans in case of emergencies. All in all, it’s not really what you expect from a secret moonlit tryst, and honestly, Race is pretty disappointed.

“Same time next week, Francis?” Spot asks once they’ve gone over everything. 

‘Francis?’ Albert mouths to Race. 

“Of course, Sean. Gotta check up on ya don’t I?” 

‘Sean?’ Race mouths back. 

“I ain’t a baby no more.” What strange words to hear come out of Spot’s mouth. Why does Jack Kelly, the leader of Manhattan, need to check up on Spot Conlon, the leader of Brooklyn?

“I know ya ain’t, but I’se still da oldah one.” Jack’s time is soft, like it is when he’s talking to one of the littles, or to a kid fresh out of the Refuge. 

“Whatevah. Get outta here, Kelly, I don't wanna look at yer ugly mug no more.” The four spies freeze, there’s no good hiding spots around, all they can do is hope that neither leader come around the crates on their way home. They watch Spot walk past, but he never looks their way and they’re far enough back that he doesn’t notice them. After several tense minutes, they reach an unspoken agreement that Jack and Spot must be far enough away that they can now speak freely. 

“Do ya think they’re fucking?” Hot Shot asks. Rafaela punches him in the arm. 

“Don’t ya think if they was fucking they’da fucked ‘stead’a talkin’ the whole time?” 

“Oh yeah.” 

“And you!” Rafaela turns to Race, pushing him hard. “Ya ain’t welcome in Brooklyn no more, Higgins.”

“Did Spot say I ain’t welcome?” Race demands. Rafaela glares at him. 

“No, but I says ya ain’t, so ya ain’t!” She and Race seem to have a staring competition, neither backing down from whatever fight they were having. 

“As fun as this is,” interrupts Albert. “It’s late and we’se should be gettin’ back ta ‘Hattan.”

He grabs Race’s arm and pulls him away from the Brooklyn newsies and back towards Manhattan. Race glares behind him for a bit before placing his hand on Albert’s back and pushing him forward faster. 

“What was that about?” Albert asks eventually, when he’s sure they’re alone. 

“Nothin’, Al, just leave it alone.” Albert stops walking, which forces Race to stop as well. “Ok fine, me ‘n Spot used ta be sweet on each othah, and Rafaela is mad that we ain’t anymore. Happy?”

Albert looks unsure for a second. “Is Spot mad at ya?”

“Nah,” Race answers flippantly. “Spotty’s sweet on someone else now. He still lets me sell at Sheepshead, so I’m pretty sure we’se good.”

Albert still looks unsure, so after making sure the coast is clear, Race drags him into a nearby alley. He pulls Albert in for a quick kiss, then rests their foreheads together. 

“I promise that we’se all good, and I ain’t gonna get murdered by Spot Conlon, al’ight?”

“Alright.” They stand there for a while longer, until someone clears their throat from the mouth of the alley which causes them to jump apart. Race whips around to see none other than Jack Kelly leaning against a brick wall.

“‘Sup fellas? As sweet as this is, it’s late an’ I’d prefer ya do it in ‘Hattan.” Albert and Race just stare at him, so he starts walking back to Manhattan alone, confident that they’ll catch up.

Race and Albert stare at each other in shock for a moment before they both take off after Jack. 

“Hey, Jackie.” Says Race when they finally catch up. “Ah, whatevah ya think ya saw-“

“Didn’t see nothin’, Racer. Though if I did see somethin’ then I wouldn’t say nothin’ ta no one.” Jack says easily. 

“Thanks Jack.” The tension leaves both Race and Albert’s shoulders. 

“We do, howevah, need ta talk about why you’se two was followin’ me ta Brooklyn.” Race and Albert share a look. 

“Then we’ll need ta be talkin’ ‘bout how you was sneakin’ off ta Brooklyn, won’t we?” Albert counters. Jack and Albert maintain intense eye contact until Jack eventually breaks.

“Fine! Fine, I meet up with Spot Conlon every week and we discuss business, al’ight?”

“Alright,” Race has an evil grin on his face that makes Jack worry. “Francis.”

Jack stops in his tracks. Race and Albert keep walking, smirking because they knew they had won. 

“Please don’t tell da othah fellas.” Jack begs. 

“‘Course not.” Replies Race. 

“We wouldn’t dream of tellin’ da fellas that you ‘n Spot Conlon are brothahs.” Albert continues. 

“Fer the right price a course.” Finishes Race

“I’ll buy yer mornin’ papes fer a week, jus’ Race’s though, I ain’t payin’ fer yers, Albert.” Jack negotiates. 

“Why won’t ya pay fer my papes?” Albert asks indignantly. 

“Cuz ya don’t pay fer yer mornin’ papes anyways. Ya distract Weasel so he don’t notice when ya slap yer hand down, that ya ain’t puttin’ down no quarter.” Albert grins at the memory of some of the things he’s said to distract Weasel. 

“Oh yeah.”

Race considers the offer for a moment. “Ya got yerself a deal, Kelly.”

The two spit-shake on it, and the deal is closed. When they get back to the lodging house, all three scale the fire escape as quietly as possible. Race and Albert stop near the top, outside the window to their bunk room, and Jack pauses on his way to the roof. 

“Ya know,” Jack starts, causes Albert to pause before he pulls the window open. “The othah fellas wouldn’t mind… ‘bout you two I mean. I’se seen plenty o’ them doin’ worse than I’se seen you two do.”

“It ain’t ‘bout that, Jackie, I’se seen a lotta them doin’ stuff too. We jus’ don’t want da attention, er da teasin’ that they’d give us.” Race explains. 

“You don’t want da attention?” Jack asks, incredulously.  Race glares at him and jerks his head in Albert’s direction, which might have worked better if Albert hadn’t been looking at him. 

“I jus’... I don’t want da fellas knowin’ yet.” The ginger admits slowly.

“Sure, Al. I ain’t gonna tell anyone anyways.”

“Thanks Jack.” Jack smiles, then continues up the fire escape to the roof. Race and Albert watch him go. Once he’s out of sight, they turn towards each other. 

“Ya wouldn’ta told da fellas ‘bout Jack, even if he didn’t offah ta pay fer yer papes.” Albert accuses, as Race pulls his matchbook out of his pocket. 

“‘Course I wouldn’t’ve. I jus’ wanted ta see what he’d do.” Race admits as he lights his cigar. 

“Ya still gonna make ‘im pay?” Albert asks as Race blows out smoke.

“Nah, da fellas would ask questions, it’s nice ta know he would though.” Albert snatches the cigar out of Race’s hand. “Hey!”

Albert blows the smoke right in Race’s face. Race retaliates by snatching his cigar back. Albert smirks.

Race glares, then pulls Albert in for a kiss. Albert melts into the kiss before Race blows his smoke into Albert’s mouth. Albert pulls back, coughing. 

“What the fuck, Race? You bastard!” Race just smirks. The window next to them is pulled open and Finch sticks his head out. 

“If you two are gonna fuck, can ya not do it outside da window? Thanks.” And with that, the Finch goes back inside and the window slides shut.

Race and Albert stare at each other in stunned silence for a moment before bursting into laughter.